'Why it's a crunch week for Wigan Warriors' - comment

I went to Salford hoping Wigan would scrag a win, any win, any way they could get it.

Wednesday, 24th April 2019, 5:35 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th April 2019, 6:05 pm
Wigan left it late to play their 'Get out of Jail' card

After a bad Good Friday, and with Salford thumping Warrington, any victory at the AJ Bell would be welcomed.

And so after they got the two points, it seems harsh to begin picking apart their performance!

Despite the number of penalties it was an entertaining match, and the drama – and victory – provided a useful tonic to the derby hangover.

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Now, about the derby. There’s always a danger in drawing conclusions from one game. What would you think of Wigan, for example, after their limp loss at London and, conversely, after a 42-0 thrashing of a star-studded Catalans?

But as I look back on the Good Friday loss, I can’t help feel that it shone a light on where both of these sides are at, and their strengths and weaknesses right now.

St Helens’ superiority was reflected in the scoreline – the same margin as their win against Warrington the previous week – and they definitely look a class apart from the rest of the competition right now.

Justin Holbrook’s side attacked in-sync and at speed, and in Luke Thompson, they have a prop who cut through the defence like a buzzsaw.

Wigan, by contrast, had effort in abundance, their left-edge had flashes of attacking brilliance, but their flaws were exposed, too; a soft line-defence, ill-discipline and a middle unit failing to dominate their opponents.

Lam will be hoping he has enough time to address those issues and get Wigan firing on all-cylinders before the end of the season. But in the short-term, I’m encouraged about the next few days.

Castleford are a good side but on their travels, they are not a side to fear, and I certainly fancy Wigan to get the two points against London the following Thursday.

If the Warriors manage to do that, those four points would change the complexion of the table.

And three straight wins would change the complexion of the build-up to their Challenge Cup showdown with Warrington.

Lose, of course, and it's a different story. And one which doesn't really bear thinking about...

The derby is more than about two points, of course, but Tom Davies’ injury provided a sobering reminder that it is still just sport.

It was a sickening injury you wouldn’t wish on any player, let alone such a top fella as Tom.

As he was breathing in the gas ‘n’ air, he was asking the medical team to strap him up and let him play on! I'm sure that fighting spirit will serve him well during his rehab.

Well done to Huddersfield, who have discounted tickets for their Challenge Cup tie with St Helens - they are £10 in advance, £5 juniors.

I wish more clubs would do the same.

On Salford – and I mean this respectfully of a club with some good players and a smart coach – but Jackson Hastings is way too good for that side.

He is an absolute pleasure to watch.

The Australian halfback is off-contract this year – I’d be staggered if he doesn’t end up at a trophy-challenging club here, or back in the NRL.

Zak Hardaker at centre. Discuss.

He soared over for the winning try at Salford, in the right centre role, but he was not as involved as much as usual – especially in attack.

I understood the logic behind the move – Morgan Escare’s fresh legs brought some energy to the side, when they needed it.

But given Hardaker’s immense defensive attributes, I feel safer with him in the No.1 role. And with Adrian Lam suddenly struggling for wing cover, I’m sure Escare can have a part to play this year, either off the bench or on the right edge.

‘But we’ve already played at Salford’, someone said ahead of Monday’s game.

Yep, and Wigan have played Saints home and away, host Castleford on Saturday just four weeks after playing them away... and yet they have yet to face Hull KR.

If it seems odd, my guess is it’s to do with the ‘loop’ games. The regular season has been padded with seven ‘additional’ matches to create a 29-round fixture list – for no other reason than to generate more money.

Of course, if those extra seven games were tagged on at the end of the season – after everyone had played each other twice, home and away – then it would be easy to see if any team has 'unfairly' been denied top spot, 'unfairly' missed out on a top-five spot and 'unfairly' been relegated for finishing bottom.

But this way, with the ‘loop’ games mixed in, it’s much harder to do that.

You’d need a lot of patience, and be a bit of a pest, to go to the enormous effort of picking through the results later this year and working out how the table would have looked without the contrived extra matches (but don’t worry... I’ll be happy to oblige!).

You can’t accuse RFL officials of dragging their heels on the issue of players cheating around the play-the-ball.

A day after Daryl Powell complained the game was “worse than football” for cheating, amendments were made to tackle the problem – including, effectively, reversing who wins a penalty when a dummy-half player passes into an opponent clearing the ruck.

It’s hard for referees to police the ruck.

But I do feel a lot of the controversies could have been avoided if refs used a touch of common sense and made judgement calls on when to play-on, rather than blow for a penalty.

The clip of Michael Shenton deliberately passing a ball into a Catalans opponent (see embedded tweet, above) to milk a penalty was incredible.

But not nearly as incredible as Daryl Powell’s comments later, as he admitted “we’re cheating to combat the cheating”!

Hopefully the rule amendments tidies up the area.

In discussing the issue of teams cheating to win penalties, Adrian Lam provided one of the early contenders for quotes of the year.

“Some teams have been lying down when they’ve had a crusher tackle, or a ninja tackle... I think we’ve got a Batman tackle coming soon!” joked Lam.